Puerto Ricans in the U.S. want the island’s crisis to be a campaign issue

Several Puerto Rican leaders in the U.S. announced a national agenda that would turn the crisis in Puerto Rico into a crucial issue for voters.
21 Oct 2015 – 2:59 PM EDT

By Melvin Félix 
@mj_felix    from Orlando, Florida

This Wednesday, several Puerto Rican leaders in the United States, among them three members of Congress, announced a national Boricua agenda that would turn the crisis in Puerto Rico into a crucial issue for Puerto Rican voters throughout the 50 states.

“When it comes time to vote we’re going to remember those who stood by us,” said Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, from New York, during The National Meeting of the Puerto Rican Diaspora held at El Centro Borinqueño in Orlando.

In addition to Velázquez, Congressman Luis Guitiérrez, from Chicago, was also at the event, while Congressman José Serrano, from New York, spoke to those present via Skype.

Also participating were Melissa Mark Viverito, Speaker of the New York City Council, and Darren Soto, a Florida state senator who in 2016 will seek to become the fourth Puerto Rican in the House of Representatives in Washington.

“At this historical moment, we have created the National Coalition of Puerto Rican Elected Officials,” Gutiérrez announced at the end of the meeting, which brought together more than a hundred Boricua leaders from different cities in the United States.

The leaders decided to convene in Orlando, where hundreds of thousands of Boricuas have migrated, in order to send a message to leaders in the United States, Velázquez said.

“Florida is a key state in elections, and our message to candidates is clear: If you continue to ignore the situation in Puerto Rico, you’ll face the consequences at the ballot box,” he stated.

Some 5 million Boricuas live in the United States, more than the 3.5 million that reside on the island. One fifth of all Boricuas who live on the Mainland are in Florida.

“It is extremely important to show that we not only have the numbers, but also the intelligence to have an organization at a national level that will coordinate efforts, design a plan of action and execute that plan of action,” said Velázquez, who in 1992 became the first Puerto Rican woman in the House of Representatives.

Boricua leaders in the U.S. seek to give a voice to the millions living on the island who cannot vote in presidential elections or who do not have legislators in the Senate or House of Representatives who can vote there. 

For Mark Viverito, who in 2014 became the second most powerful figure in the city of New York, the meeting is an attempt to demand concrete solutions to the problems Puerto Rico faces.

“The first thing we’re going to do is create a coalition of Puerto Rican elected officials by way of the diaspora and also Puerto Rico, with the understanding that we want to become united and create a plan of action that addresses the crisis in Puerto Rico,” commented the first Hispanic woman to become Speaker of the New York City Council.

Some of the proposals discussed by the Boricuas at the event suggested giving Puerto Rico the ability to restructure its public debt; eliminating maritime shipping restrictions that stand in the way of its trade; and changing the formula for federal reimbursements for health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

“I hope my Puerto Rican brothers and sisters discover themselves and realize they have immense political power,” Velázquez said. “You don’t ask to be respected, you demand it.”

The exodus of Puerto Ricans from the island to the Mainland has been “the largest out-migration from the island since the 1950’s,” according to the Pew Research Center.

These Boricuas in the 50 states have dispersed in such a way that they have become “modern nomads,” according to Edwin Meléndez, director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York. “Social networks have become the new barrio,” added the professor.

This dispersion is an historical opportunity for uniting the Boricua vote, according to what Serrano said to those present, during a video feed originating in New York.

“For the first time in the history of the diaspora, we’re not just in New York,” the congressman said. “We’re in all corners of the nation. And contrary to what is true for people in Puerto Rico, you have the right to vote. You can call your members of Congress, who perhaps may not be Puerto Ricans, and say to them, ‘I want you to help Puerto Rico’.”

Gutiérrez urged Puerto Ricans to pressure potential presidential candidates, and ask for concrete solutions.

“If not, they will continue to arrive in Puerto Rico to raise campaign funds and they will never solve the fundamental issues we are facing. We mustn’t let them come back to look at the crisis and respond: ‘I’ll do the best I can’,” the congressman stated.